People Say the Darndest Things… About Grief

by | Nov 10, 2023 | Grief & Loss | 0 comments

We’ve all heard that kids say the darndest things. 

Both of us have come to realize that it’s actually adults that say the darndest things when it comes to grief. If you’ve lost someone, you’ve most likely been on the receiving end of well intentioned words and phrases that left you feeling more confused and agitated. 

During our own personal life experiences dealing with loss, as well in our professional roles as Grief Counselors, we’ve learned it is actually kids who tend to say the most honest and helpful things. You might think that doesn’t sound right. 

To be clear, we are not claiming that children know the right thing to say to someone in grief. We are saying that children are more honest about the fact that there is really nothing right or good to say. Kids tend to speak from the heart and not the head. 

Adults are more prone to speak from knowledge or logic and come up with words and phrases that are intended to comfort someone in their grief. Adults are also prone to using scripts that they have previously heard or maybe even phrases that have been read in a greeting card. 

These sayings are also referenced as platitudes- statements that are overly used to provide comfort or meaning. We have all been guilty of using these at some point. We believe that we can say the “right” thing and that the “right” thing will erase the pain of loss. The truth is that it’s impossible to erase the pain and all we can really do is be there with them. 

While people intend to comfort you, they often fail when they are trying to fix the problem. In our professional and personal journeys with grief, we have heard a variety of unhelpful phrases. Of course, because grief is unique to you and your experience with loss, you may read some of these and recall finding comfort when you heard them. Also, you may have other expressions that we have failed to mention. This is not an exhaustive list. And just because we have it listed as one that we have been told is hard to hear, it doesn’t have to also be true for you. Your journey is for you. 

People Try To Give You Hope:  

  • They lived a good life

  • They are in a better place

  • You will be okay

  • It gets better with time

  • You’ll get over this

  • They are better off and happier now

  • You are young and can have more kids/marry again

People Ask Questions

  • Are you okay? 

  • How are you doing? 

  • What do you need? 

  • How do you feel? 

People Make Observations 

  • You are so strong

  • You’re handling this so much better than I am 

People Make Comparisons

  • I don’t know what I would do if I lost my husband/child/mom/etc…

  • I can relate because when I got divorced…

People Tell You What You Need To Do:

  • You gotta keep it together/be strong for the kids/wife/dad 

  • Give it some time and you will feel better/It gets easier

People Get Religious With It:

  • God has a plan/It’s all in God’s plan

  • God must have needed them in heaven instead of on earth

  • You now have a guardian angel

  • We’re praying for you

  • God never gives you more than you can handle

  • God gives his toughest battles to his strongest warriors

People Apologize:

  • I’m sorry for your loss

You may question some of these phrases and we have purposely left off explaining the interpretations. Some of the phrases on this list may not bother you.  Some of the phrases may have truly helped you. Some of the phrases on this list may bug you, too. There are probably some phrases that have annoyed you that we have overlooked on this list. 

How can the same words be received as supportive by some and as harmful to others? Because each person’s grief experience is specific to them and their loss, what each person finds comfort in will be different. Sometimes the impact is influenced by who delivers the message as well as by who receives it.

So, if you are grieving and you do not feel supported by the words from others about your loss what can you do?


  • Identify the intention of your friend/loved one

When your friend or loved one shares a phrase or words that bring up uneasy, uncomfortable feelings, it may be helpful to examine who is saying it vs. what they are saying. There is a good chance that this person is coming to you as someone who loves and cares for you. While they may be at a loss for words and end up not saying the “right words”, it does not mean that they are not caring. Your friend/loved one cares and also they are not sure of what to say. More than likely the intention is connection and support. It may be beneficial to remember that most of the people who were your friends before the loss are still your friends after this loss. 

  • Check in with yourself about your emotional vulnerability

Have you noticed that your response to events is greatly impacted by where your head and heart are in that moment? This is very true with loss. You are grieving and your world has been tossed into a tornado of emotions. You are vulnerable. It is devastating. In this exposed state, you may hear or process things through a fractured lens. You have a heightened sensitivity to things and may filter these words differently at different times. You may react and hear things differently through your grief lens. Acknowledging the challenges of your loss as well as your humanness can be helpful for you through this chaotic journey.

  • Reframe the phrases

Sometimes words need to be stated differently to be truly heard. There are times when things are said and the intended sentiment is lost.

Your friends may not know what to say which is understandable because you are also struggling with the words to express the weight of the feelings related to your loss.

In order to avoid going through the list one by one, let’s just do a general reframe. These words and phrases can be translated to say “This is hard/heartbreaking/heavy/unimaginable. I don’t know what to do or say. There are no words. I will just be here with you.” Of course even these words may bring up hard feelings for you, so please feel free to find your personal reframe that helps you to maintain connections with those in your support circle. Your grief is unique to you and the love you shared, therefore your words should be unique to you.

Ultimately, the death of a loved one is heavy and there is a ripple effect of loss among you and your support circle. While your heart is heavy and you may feel unsupported by the things people say to you… if you look past their loss of words, you may see that there are people trying to reach out to you. We are all human and have a lack of understanding when it comes to death and how to talk about it. 

Even though the words don’t help, your friend or loved one is trying to take away the pain of your loss. They are also trying to maintain or establish a connection to you on your grief journey. Hopefully some of the things we have shared will help you to rediscover the connection and comfort that you yearn for as you grieve.

About The Authors

Rachael Myers, LCSW and Kathy Davis, LMSW provide Online Grief Therapy to people living in Texas.